With condemnations raining down on Israel from around the world over controversial building projects over the pre-1967 Green Line, some observers are wondering, why doesn’t Jerusalem just build somewhere else? According to Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, Jerusalem has no choice but to build in these neighborhoods in order to address current housing shortages. Tsur holds the urban planning and environmental portfolios.

The capital is currently facing a shortage of 40,000 to 50,000 apartments for all sectors, including haredi and Arab populations, who suffer from the worst housing shortages. The city’s current buzzword for new apartment construction is “density.”

The new approach comes after environmental and urban planning activists threw out architect Moshe Safdie’s expansion plan.

The plan, proposed under previous mayor Uri Lupoliansky, consisted of detached suburban houses in the hills west of the city.

Activists and politicians argued the plan was unsustainable due to difficulties with public transportation and incredibly destructive to the green areas around Jerusalem.

Since the Safdie plan’s failure, the city is working to build up existing neighborhoods by increasing the apartment density.

The result is that new buildings in existing neighborhoods can build extra floors, explained Tsur.

For example, in established neighborhoods such as Rehavia, the city is allowing contractors to build apartments four or five stories high rather than the typical two or three.

“We want tall, dense buildings,” said Tsur. “We have to look after the historic neighborhoods, and not allow them to get too clumsy and ugly, and we need to be very careful with the older city,” she said.

But even those increased measures won’t give the city enough housing to address the current shortage, not to mention the city’s natural growth.

That’s why the city turned to the “ring neighborhoods” of Pisgat Ze’ev, Ramat Shlomo, Ramot, Gilo, and East Talpiot, which are newer neighborhoods from the 1970s and more conducive to high-rise apartments, she said.

Tsur explained that these areas are suitable for apartments that are 15 or 18 stories high. The city is also looking to build densely along the light rail. Plans are underway for a new 25-story apartment complex in Kiryat Moshe across from the large hotels and next to a stop on the light rail.

The municipality also does not differentiate between neighborhoods on different sides of the Green Line, Tsur added.

“The Green Line is not relevant in Jerusalem for a very simple reason,” she said. “We’re not an east/west divide, and the populations are very intermixed.”

Additionally, according to the Clinton parameters, these mostly Jewish ring neighborhoods are very likely to stay part of Israeli Jerusalem in a final status negotiation with the Palestinian Authority.

At the end of the day, the building policy comes down to necessity, not politics, she said.

“We can’t have people leave the city because they have nowhere to live,” she said.

The municipality is actively working to stem the tide of young workers leaving the city because they have trouble finding employment with a salary that allows them to live in the city.

The housing shortage causes rent to skyrocket for existing apartments.

Hagit Ofran, the head of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch team, disagreed with Tsur’s reasoning that the ring neighborhoods are the only places to build densely. Tsur herself suggested many alternatives as the chairwoman of the Sustainable Jerusalem coalition which opposed the Safdie plan, said Ofran. Plans in the city center should be explored before the city moves onto neighborhoods over the Green Line.

“We need to think of the future of Jerusalem in the long term. and take into account that we’ll be two states, and the Palestinian neighborhoods won’t be part of Jerusalem,” she said. While she acknowledged that most likely these ring neighborhoods would stay a part of Israel if there is a twostate solution, she argued that the city should not build there until the final status is known.

“If we succeed through negotiations, then we can build in Ramat Shlomo,” she said. “Everything we do when there’s no peace makes us farther and farther from the possibility of peace.”

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger